This month, I’d like to address a topic I often find myself discussing: running your easy days easy enough.
Then I’d like to address a few very common beliefs many runners carry around that are not (or may not be) right:
1) Running isn’t bad for your knees, possibly even if your knees are bad to start.
2) Lactate is not your enemy.
3) “Extreme” running may not be bad for your immune system.
Hard days hard, easy days easy
First, I don’t know how often I deal with this topic. I could write a blog post about it every month and feel like I’m not getting through to enough people.
I often promote the talk test, which I see got referenced in this post. In short, my version of the talk test is pretty simple. If you were running with someone, could you carry on a conversation with them? You don’t need to be able to recite poetry but you have to be doing better than only offering short responses between gasping for air. You should be able to carry on your side of a conversation with short sentences while breathing relatively normally.
Remember, the key days for stimulating improvement are your hard days. Your easy days are just for maintaining aerobic conditioning and letting your body recover and build itself up stronger. If you run your easy days too hard, you’re performing a double negative. First, you’re affecting how hard you can run on your hard days. Second, you’re affecting your recovery, which is when you actually get faster. All told, you end up sabotaging your training by working harder than ideal.
So please slow down. As a point of reference, I’m a consistent sub-6:00 pace 5K runner but I’m not afraid to run slower than 8:00 pace on easy runs and I’ll even go slower than 9:00 pace when I feel like it’s necessary. In fact, I did a hard workout in the heat Tuesday. Yesterday, I ran 5 miles averaging 9:15 pace with my fastest mile of the day still being over 9:00.
I’d rather see you go “too slow” than too fast on those easy runs. The truth is, if you think you’re going too slow, chances are you’re not. If you think you’re going too fast, you almost certainly are.
Running isn’t bad for your knees
We already should know (though many don’t seem to know) that running isn’t bad for good knees.
But we also know that running is bad for those who already have bad knees. Well, do we?
It turns out that maybe running isn’t bad even for those who already have bad knees.
If your knees are bad, use extreme caution. However, this gives you more hope than we’ve seen in the past that you can still keep running to some extent.
Lactate is not your enemy
Back in the 1990s, when I was a new runner, lactate (or lactic acid) was blamed for all kinds of ills. From the burning sensation at the end of a hard workout to sore muscles the next day, we were always told that lactic acid is the culprit.
Many, especially those who grew up as runners during that time when lactate was the boogeyman, still hold on to that belief that it’s bad. But what if lactate has simply been getting a bad rap?
That’s right. Lactate is not your enemy. In fact, in some ways, it is your friend.
“Extreme” running may not be bad for your immune system
I have to admit, I still have to wrap my head around this one. In fact, I’d like to see more before I officially proclaim this a myth. However, the first step to learning something new is challenging your current beliefs. For me, this is doing just that.
I have sometimes wondered, is running a marathon really making your susceptible to picking up a cold or does flying on a plane and being around hundreds or thousands of strangers from around the world expose you to so many bugs that you’re much more likely to pick something up?
I always assumed the answer was that both were true. You stress your body and weaken your immune system while exposing yourself to a lot of people who may be carrying something.
While this doesn’t settle the issue, it does call into question half of the equation.
Still, if you’re running a big event, take extra care. Whether or not your immune system is weakened, you are being exposed to a lot more bugs, which does still make your susceptible.